By Marie Holmes
On Monday, May 16, the Community Board 7 Parks & Environment Committee passed resolutions recommending the approval of two major renovation projects in Riverside Park and Central Park.
The committee voted unanimously in favor of an upgrade to the drainage system in Riverside Park between 108th and 116th Streets, as well as a renovation to Central Park’s North Meadow Center building and recreation facilities.
Nick Catalano, lead engineer on the Riverside Park project, said the goal was “to restore the existing drainage system to working condition, mainly to reduce the flooding risk in the park.” Because of its low elevation and waterfront location, the park receives a great deal of runoff during heavy rainstorms, and the drainage system in its current state is insufficient to cope with heavy flow from storms, leading to damage and erosion.
Catalano shared dramatic photos of rainwater cascading down the steps leading to the lower park at 112th Street, as well as the bodies of water that form after heavy rain in the lower park which local residents have dubbed Riverside Lake One, Two and Three. “You get these areas where you just wait for it to evaporate,” explained Catalano.
Improvement plans include replacing nonstandard gratings on drains with designs less likely to clog, and the creation of rain gardens and swales — landscaped areas where water can be redirected to drain before pooling into “lakes.” Piping beneath the lower portion of the park that moves water out to the Hudson would also be replaced, and a drainage ditch would be added running parallel to the retention wall.
Catalano said that they hope to finalize the design in December, with construction beginning a year after the final design is approved. Work would occur on the upper and lower park levels at different times, and a 5 to 8 foot stretch would be maintained at all times to preserve pedestrian access throughout the park.
Lane Addonizio, Associate Vice President for Planning at the Central Park Conservancy, outlined the proposed renovations to the North Meadow Recreation Center, which sits in the middle of the park, above the reservoir.
Constructed in 1910 as an operations facility for the park, the center originally included a manure pit and refuse incinerator. In 1934, Robert Moses became Parks Commissioner, and during his tenure additions to the North Meadow Center included ballfields, handball and horseshoe courts, public restrooms and boiler rooms.
Proposed renovations, totalling about $20 million, include repaving the existing basketball courts and creating a new court in what is now being used as a parking area. This space is available as the park converts its vehicle fleet to a smaller number of electric golf carts.
Handball and pickleball courts will be refurbished and repainted. The exact number of handball versus pickleball courts remains to be determined, said Addonizio, who said that the Conservancy is “looking to balance and accommodate as many people as possible,” noting that pickleball has gained in popularity over the past couple of years. No fees will be charged for use of the courts.
Restrooms will be moved to the building’s center and resized. Bob Rumsey, the Conservancy’s Studio Director for Landscape Architecture, noted that current restrooms are disproportionate, with the men’s room occupying more space, perhaps because it was initially assumed that more men than women would play sports on the courts. Renovations will include the addition of gender-neutral family restrooms. New water fountains will function year round and include bottle fillers.
At the meeting’s end, committee members noted that the problem of off-leash dogs on the lawn in Theodore Roosevelt Park seems to have been resolved by the increase in ticketing there, and that the grass looks “lush” and “beautiful.”